Letter to the Editor: Morris County strategic plan should set energy goals

Solar panel atop new parking pay station in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Solar panel atop parking pay station in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Editor’s note: The opinions below are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

To the Editor:

As the Steering Committee crafts a Strategic Plan for growth and development for Morris County, members would do well to consider the power that fuels development: Energy.

Whether we’re talking about homes, schools, hospitals, museums and cultural centers, public safety, transportation, construction, or economic development, we’re also talking about energy.

On behalf of the group Morris Township for Renewable Energy (and likely many others across the County who share our views), I recommend that the Strategic Plan Committee build energy efficiency and renewable energy goals into the Strategic Plan.

We know, we know…the County solar projects engendered criticism, but it’s important to remember that the cost overruns were a part of the mediation that occurred between the developer and the contractor, as opposed to a flaw in the solar technology’s capacities.

For both the environmental benefits and the energy savings the County will accrue over the life of the solar panels, Morris County did the right thing in installing solar energy systems at various County sites. And, through that process, County government learned a lot about the energy space and how better to navigate it.

Don’t throw in the towel on renewables, Morris County; stay the course and put that new knowledge to use in making our county a leader is sustainable development.

But, if the County government is wary of renewables, at the very least, it should build energy efficiency goals into the Strategic Plan. Energy efficiency measures are one way to avoid the sometimes difficult politics of renewables and still contribute to much-needed emissions reductions.

And it’s no small contribution: Heating and cooling buildings accounts for 40 percent of all global emissions, so energy efficiency has enormous potential to make a huge impact.

Just this month, research consultancy McKinsey released an analysis intended to help cities target the highest-impact strategies to address emissions. Energy efficiency targets were one of four primary focus areas McKinsey encourages cities to address.

Within the efficiency focus area, McKinsey recommends “raising building standards for new construction, retrofitting building envelopes, upgrading HVAC and water heating technology, and implementing lighting, appliance, and automation improvements.”

As David Roberts of Vox notes, “ will require working with developers, real estate owners, and building occupants. But it is crucially important, because buildings are long-lasting infrastructure, averaging between 30 and 50 years, so getting them right (or wrong) reverberates far in the future.”

Addressing efficiency issues will also require public outreach and education, a task perfectly suited to towns’ Environmental Commissions or Sustainable Jersey Green Teams.

Sure, there will be expenses involved upfront in addressing energy issues that have a mid- to long-term payout. But, in an era of unprecedented storm strength and sea level rises that will dramatically impact our state, we need to begin to rethink the way that we make decisions about prioritizing and financing growth and development projects.

If environmental concerns are not compelling enough reasons to prioritize sustainable energy goals, perhaps securing the property value environment might be a good motivator.

The reality is that, however residents may feel personally about renewable energy or about the County’s first foray into that market, all of our future property values are tied to embracing technologies that will make Morris County “greener” in the eyes of younger home buyers.

According to the National Association of Realtors, Millennials are the largest percentage of homebuyers (34 percent) for the fourth year in a row.

Contrary to the hype that they aren’t “settling down” and buying homes, Jeremy Wacksman, chief marketing officer at the Zillow Group, says, “Millennials are not just starting to buy homes; they’re powering the housing market.”

And the research on the desires of this demographic is pretty darn clear: Millennials are concerned about energy, and they want to move into homes and communities that are energy efficient and powered by renewables.

An Accenture report from last year found that 61 percent of Millennials want to begin using a digital application to track their energy use (“smart thermostats” like The Nest, for example) within the next five years.

The purpose of these technologies is to track and monitor energy use in order to be able to conserve more effectively. (For comparison purposes, only 36 percent of those 55 and older wanted to sign up for subscriptions to that sort of technology).

The same study found that 56 percent of Millennials want to install solar panels within a five-year time frame (double the percentage of those 55 and older who want to install solar).  

The consumer advocacy group Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) found that Millennials “are fans of new energy-related technologies, including residential and community solar,” and they are willing to pay for investments in renewable energy.

A focus on energy efficiency and renewables is critical to accomplishing the Freeholders’ goals of continuing to make Morris County “the premier place to live, work, and raise a family” and to “build our vibrant and sustainable economy and preserv our natural resources” — not only because that focus is environmentally responsible but because it is key to attracting the next generation of home buyers as well.

If you’d like to join our group Morris Township for Renewable Energy, we welcome you – whether you are a resident of our town or not. Find us on Facebook, by searching “Groups” for Morris Township for Renewable Energy.

Sincerely,

Shannon Falkner,
Morris Township

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